Supreme Court upholds Chief Justice of India as ‘Master of Roster’

Concurring with Justice Sikri's opinion, Justice Bhushan said the CJI has the prerogative to allocate cases and nominate benches to hear them

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New Delhi: The ‘Chief Justice of India’ (CJI) is an individual judge and not the powerful collective of five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court called the ‘Collegium’, the Supreme Court held on Friday.

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And it is this exclusive authority of this individual judge, who is the “spokesperson of the court”, to allocate cases to fellow judges as the ‘Master of Roster’, a Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan declared in their separate but concurring opinions.

The judgment is based on a petition filed by former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan to have a collegium of Supreme Court judges collectively allocate cases rather than leave the entire power in the hands of the CJI in his administrative capacity as the ‘Master of Roster’.

A five-judge constitution bench and a three-judge bench have already held that the CJI is the master of the roster. With this verdict, this is the third time in eight months the Supreme Court has declared its Chief Justice as the ‘Master of Roster’.

In fact, Justice Sikri, who recently joined the Collegium after the retirement of Justice Chelameswar on June 22, quoted Edmund Burke in his opinion: “Applaud us when we run; Console us when we fall; Cheer us when we recover; but let us pass on – for God’s sake, let us pass on.”

Concurring with Justice Sikri’s opinion, Justice Bhushan said the CJI has the prerogative to allocate cases and nominate benches to hear them.

Justice Bhushan also said that there are rich conventions and practices of SC which are time-tested and should not be tinkered with.

Justice Sikri said that it would be difficult to accept the submission of the petitioner that the term Chief Justice of India under the Supreme Court Rules should be read as the collegium comprising five senior-most judges for allocating cases.

The bench said that no system is foolproof and there is always scope for improvement in the functioning of the judiciary.

In his PIL, Bhushan had alleged that “master of the roster” cannot be an “unguided and unbridled” discretionary power, exercised arbitrarily by the CJI by hand-picking benches of select judges or by assigning cases to particular judges.

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